American Athletic Football Predictions
What was known as the Big East is now the American Athletic Conference (AAC). The conference replaced the losses of Pittsburgh and Syracuse (both joined the ACC) with UCF, Houston, SMU and Memphis, all out of Conference USA.
The final product of the American Athletic won’t be reached until 2015. Next year they lose Rutgers to the Big Ten, while adding in Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina. The following season Louisville will jump ship to the ACC and will be replaced with Navy. This was already widely considered to be the weakest of the BCS conferences, and from the looks of things that’s going to hold true for some time to come.
It’s going to be interesting to see if the additions of schools from smaller conferences will take away from the overall competitiveness that we grown so accustomed to in the Big East. Last year, four teams finished tied on top of the conference standings at 5-2. It was the third straight year where at least three teams shared the conference title with a record of 5-2.
Here’s a quick look at how I see the American Athletic shaping up in 2013. For a more in-depth preview of each team, just click on the school in the table at the bottom of the article.
I strongly believe the Cardinals are going to be the team to beat in the AAC. Louisville returns 16 starters from a team that finished 11-2, including an impressive 33-23 win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. What makes the Cardinals so dangerous is junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is clearly in the Heisman discussion going into the season. As a sophomore Bridgewater threw for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions and those numbers only figure to get better. Given the Cardinals easy non-conference schedule, this team has an excellent shot at finishing the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record.
The Bearcats have won 10 or more games in five of the last six seasons. I don’t look for any decline in the first year under head coach Tommy Tubberville. Cincinnati has a legitimate shot at winning the AAC this year, as they get Louisville at home coming off a bye week, but I’m concerned with a defense that loses four of their top six tacklers.
I fully expect Central Florida to step right into the American Athletic and contend. The Knights are coming off a 10-win season in 2012. With the return of starting quarterback Blake Bortles, I’m expecting big improvements out of the offensive side of the ball. The defense does lose a number of key players, but the unit is more than capable of holding its own in this conference. The Knights should also benefit from a very favorable schedule. They avoid having to play Cincinnati, they should be favored in all four of their home games, and they get three road games against teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the conference.
There will be plenty of experts who have the Scarlet Knights finishing in the top three in this conference, but I think this team will fail to match last year’s success. Rutgers goes from having 15 starters back to just 10 in 2013. So much of this team has been about their ability to stay in games with excellent defense, but that doesn’t figure to be the case this year. The Scarlet Knights lose six of their top eight tacklers and have just four starters back on that side of the ball.
The Cougars are my sleeper team in the AAC. Had they not unexpectedly lost their starting running back and top wide out in the offseason, I likely would have picked them to finish higher than a three-way tie for fourth. The defense is still going to give up a lot of points, but I look for the offense to get back on track with the return of starting quarterback David Piland and the addition of new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, who spent the last eight years at Oklahoma State.
It’s been a difficult first two seasons for head coach Paul Pasqualoni at Connecticut, but I like his chances of getting the Huskies back to a bowl game for the first time since 2010. Connecticut’s biggest problem last year was their inability to run the football, as they averaged a mere 88 yards per game on the ground. With four of the five starters returning on the offensive line, I look for junior running back Lyle McCombs to put up similar numbers to that of his freshman season when he earned 2nd-Team All-Big East honors with 1,151 yards. An improved rushing attack also has me expecting improved play out of junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer.
I had a difficult time picking the Mustangs to finish in the bottom half, as head coach June Jones seems to always seems to get his team to exceed expectations, but that could prove to be difficult in 2013. SMU has just 11 returning starters and must replace six players who earned All-Conference honors last year in Conference USA. The biggest loss comes at running back, where they must figure out a way to replace the production of Zach Line, who carried the offense in 2012 with 1,276 yards and 13 touchdowns.
8. South Florida
South Florida was one of the most disappointing teams in the entire country last year. This team was being projected by several experts to win the Big East and they came out and finished the year at 3-9. The Bulls are hoping that new head coach Willie Taggart can get this team back on track, but I just don’t think the schedule allows for much improvement. USF draws both Louisville and Cincinnati at home, which likely means they will need to pull off multiple road upsets and I just don’t see that happening in the first year of a new system.
The Tigers picked the wrong time to switch conferences. I strongly believe that Memphis will be one of the most improved teams in the country in 2013 with 16 starters coming back. Had they stayed in C-USA, they would have had an excellent shot at making a bowl game for the first time since 2008. I currently have the Tigers’ only conference win coming at home against Temple, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pull of an unexpected upset or two.
The Owls returned to the Big East last season after several years in the MAC and struggled significantly. Temple went just 4-7 overall after recording at least eight wins in each of the previous three seasons. They did manage to win a couple conference games, but they also had six losses by 18 or more points. They have replaced Steve Addazio (left to take over at Boston College) with former Temple assistant Matt Rhule. Given the fact that Rhule has no previous head coaching experience I look for 2013 to be a very difficult year for Temple fans.
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